Treading Water

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Record floods have turned lowland farms in Pakistan into lakes, highlighting the fragility of an unstable developing nation in the era of climate change. “We are living on an island now,” farmer Muhammad Jaffar said in an interview with the New York Times. Jaffar’s cotton fields were now under “putrid water,” ruining his crop and raising questions about how he would feed his family in the months to come.

A third of Pakistan is underwater. The deluge has kicked off a gargantuan humanitarian crisis affecting 33 million people, reported Al Jazeera. Around 1,500 have died, half of them children, and some of these are because of a lack of access to clean water or food. More deaths are expected. The South Asian country’s public health system was already under strain. Now waterborne diseases are expected to flourish. Cases of dengue have soared as pools of stagnant water have proliferated, for example, added the BBC. Food shortages are also likely. Meanwhile, poisonous snakes flourish, Newsweek noted.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the deluge a “monsoon on steroids,” saying he’d never seen climate-related destruction on such a scale. The floods started in June amid a heatwave that caused glaciers in the mountainous country to melt. Heavy monsoon rains added more water. Now scientists are warning that the waters might not recede for as long as six months, CNN reported.

Pakistan could present the world with the kind of life-changing crisis that climate change experts have been issuing warnings about for years. Those experts have said that greenhouse gas emissions will make rainfall heavier in South Asia. Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir saw injustice in the situation. Pakistan generates less than one percent of global carbon emissions but now is paying the price for all mankind’s effect on the environment, he argued in a column for the Washington Post.

In July and August, the country received almost 190 percent more rain than the 30-year average, Reuters noted. In some areas, the increase in precipitation was almost 470 percent.

But Mir also admitted that Pakistanis were disappointed with their corrupt and incompetent government’s mismanagement of the disaster. In 2010, flooding in Kalam washed away hotels on the popular Swat River. Developers were allowed to build in the exact same place after bribing officials. The new hotels recently collapsed. Economic losses associated with the floods are now forecast at $30 billion.

Omer Aijazi, a visiting researcher at the University of Victoria, explained in the Conversation how Pakistan’s poorest, most unstable and most politically oppressed areas have been hit hardest. “Uneven development and inequality” have also been a common characteristic of districts that have suffered the most.

If they can’t reclaim a third of their land, the richest Pakistanis are going to become much more familiar with people from those districts as they find new places to live.

Still, some villagers caught in the deluge are hanging on, refusing to leave. They say the little they have left is better than the nothing that awaits them.

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